Lebanon News

Activist: Rejection of nationality law sets dangerous precedent

Lebanese women married to foreigners carry banners during a nationality campaign to demand that Lebanese mothers be able to pass the Lebanese citizenship to their children in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: The ministerial committee studying the draft nationality law has rejected it in its entirety, according to an official document leaked to activists.

Formed nearly one year ago, the committee has claimed that a reform of the nationality law, “would pose severe threats to stability in the country and the fragile demographic balance of Lebanon,” according to Lina Abou Habib, coordinator of the nationality campaign, who has seen the document.

As the law stands, Lebanese women married to foreigners cannot pass their nationality on to their children, which means they are denied equal access to benefits including education and health care.

The document, a list of recommendations for Prime Minister Najib Mikati, explicitly cites the issue of Lebanese women married to Palestinian men as one of the demographic concerns over granting equal nationality.

It also says that the “higher interests of the state” would be undermined in light of the confessional system of government, and adds that until this system is replaced, equal citizenship rights will not be feasible.

Abou Habib said that the contents of the document and the viewpoints exposed set a “dangerous precedent. They are saying that international conventions and the principles of human rights do not matter. Why do we even have U.N. offices in this country?”

She is also concerned with the concept of the “higher interests of the state.”

“Who defines it? Whose interest is that? How can you assure these ‘higher interests’ when half of citizens’ rights are not guaranteed?

“They are basically saying that women constitute a grave danger to higher state interests.”

Several members of the committee – which is headed by Deputy premier Samir Mouqbel, and includes Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi – have in the past been outspoken about their objections to equal nationality rights for women, often citing concerns over the Palestinian issue.

But despite being shocked and disappointed, Abou Habib says that, in one sense, it is refreshing to see the honest beliefs of the committee members laid out in full.

“Now the mask has fallen,” she said.

Since submitting the draft law to Mikati in July 2011, nationality campaigners have been continuously lobbying parliamentarians on the issue.

The fact that it has taken until now for the committee to reject their recommendations is evidence of the complete lack of transparency.

“In a way it is consistent and coherent ... with their lack of respect,” Abou Habib added.

While campaigners were taking the issue seriously until “the last minute,” she said, ministerial committee members “have twisted and turned and hid.”

Nationality campaigners will hold a news conference Friday to announce how they will respond to the latest developments, steps which Abou Habib said would include taking to the streets, targeting members of the committee individually and discussing the importance of the forthcoming elections, an issue likely related to the committee’s rejection of the law.

“This is as far as they can see things. They are short-sighted and everything is for their own interests,” she said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 16, 2013, on page 4.

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